Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner
132 mins; Class 12;
KRS Releasing Ltd
American Sniper arrives on our shores on the strength of strong critical acclaim, six Oscar nominations and a €90 million dollar opening weekend.
So I was a bit surprised that it left me a little cold, despite Bradley Cooper’s charismatic and dedicated performance and director Clint Eastwood’s trademark expertise behind the camera.
It is the true story of US Navy Seal Chris Kyle, who became the most lethal sniper in the history of the US military. A ranch hand and rodeo rider, Kyle (Cooper) was so moved and enraged by the September 11 attacks he immediately enlisted, proving to be an impressively accurate shooter.
His proficiency saved countless lives in the unforgiving war zone of Iraq; earning him the nickname ‘Legend’, while his enemies put a price on his head, making him the prime target of insurgents.
Kyle served a total of four tours in Iraq, each one taking its toll on himself psychologically and straining the relationship with his wife Taya (Sienna Miller) and kids.
More of a sketch than a portrait
There is much that is admirable in the biopic of the war veteran on a cinematic level. Eastwood creates a number of tension-filled street battle scenes on the streets of Ramadi, Fallujah and Sadyr City where Kyle served.
The director doesn’t hold back on recreating the death and destruction wrought by the horrors of war; a war where kids hurl grenades at soldiers, men drive cars laden with explosives headlong into American convoys and women are cold-bloodedly shot dead by Kyle’s rifle before they can blow themselves up.
And bullets fly, missiles explode and many lives are lost, while bewildered innocent residents are caught up in the middle of this.
Eastwood is to be commended for not baulking at depicting the abominable way they are treated by the soldiers, for this is a war zone where everyone is guilty until proven innocent.
The movie’s biggest problem is that it is a tad repetitive. Kyle embarks on his first tour of duty; is witnessed in brutal combat with his comrades-in-arms; flirts with death often; then gets sent home where he finds difficulty adjusting and communicating with his wife.
He goes back to Iraq, faces the same dangers; comes home and so on. Four brutal tours and two kids later, we still have only scratched the surface of the character with the extent of the psychological damage he suffered barely explored.
It is taken as given – who wouldn’t suffer in some way at witnessing what he did? – but I would have expected a more profound examination of someone credited with over 160 kills.
And for a guy whose mantra is ‘God, country, family’, we learn little about Kyle’s relationships with either. He picks up a Bible at church when he was a kid; a Bible he carries around with him in combat. Yet, how his faith in God affects his job, or vice-versa, is barely touched upon.
The slightly jingoistic platitudes in the script by Jason Hall (Based on Kyle’s book) don’t often ring true.
As for the brief scenes with Taya (a committed performance by Miller) and his family, these are too brief to really portray the relationship with any real depth.
Cooper embodies the battle-weary soldier well enough – the actor has buffed himself up considerably and he definitely has charisma to spare and he carries the film with ease.
The intensity is palpable as he lines up his shots; the struggles to adjust to home life are obvious.
It is one of his more mature and convincing performances, yet the way the film is structured means his American sniper is more of a sketch than a full portrait.
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